The Braves franchise has now called Atlanta home for 55 years. While that certainly is a long time, the franchise itself spent more time than that between Boston and Milwaukee as far back as the 1800s. Without a doubt, between the postseason and regular season stretch runs, the Braves and their fans have certainly experienced many memorable home runs.
While late season and postseason home runs may carry more significance, Atlanta has delivered plenty of fun moments due to the long ball on Opening Day. With the 2021 season here, Atlanta’s potent offense certainly has the potential to launch a few pitches into the seats at any time. However, there have been plenty of home runs over the decades that have allowed the Braves to get things rolling right from the start.
Enjoy a fun stroll down memory lane!
In their first ever game in Atlanta, future Hall of Fame Manager Joe Torre hit the first two home runs for the Braves in Atlanta Stadium. He connected for the first one in the fifth inning in a game that would go into extras as a 1-1 tie. In the top of the 13th, the Pittsburgh Pirates scored two runs to take a 3-1 lead, but Torre answered with a second solo home run in the bottom of the 13th inning. Though the Braves would lose 3-2, it certainly was a memorable day for Torre, the Braves, and the city of Atlanta.
One obvious theme of the 2021 season will be the Atlanta Braves honoring the life of the late, great Hank Aaron, who unfortunately passed away a few months ago. Obviously, there are far too many memories to count that represented how legendary Aaron was a Brave and a person. However, one of the more enjoyable ones, and perhaps the most memorable Opening Day home run since the Braves arrived in Atlanta, was his 714th career home run on April 4th, 1974.
It was a 3-1 count when Aaron sent Jack Billingham’s offering over the left field wall to tie perhaps what was and still is the greatest record in all of sports. Four days later, Aaron would hit number 715 off Al Downing to surpass Ruth. Not only was this home run legendary because it tied Ruth’s sacred number, it also was the last Opening Day heroics of Aaron’s career in a Braves uniform, as 1974 was his last season with the franchise. Obviously, just like Henry Aaron himself, this moment will live on forever as one of the best memories of arguably the greatest career, and one of the greatest men, in the history of baseball.
Obviously, no one was ever going to replace the magnitude of the person and player Henry Aaron had been for the Braves organization. However, in 1974, the last year that Aaron would play in a Braves uniform, the Braves selected a young outfielder in the MLB amateur draft by the name of Dale Murphy.
The Braves lost their first game of the 1978 season by the score of 13-4. However, Murphy hit his first Opening Day home run as a member of the Braves. From 1978-1990, Murphy would become next “Face of the Franchise” for the Braves after Aaron. Though there were not too many instances of team success, Braves fans were able to witness one of the best offensive players in the history of the franchise on a nightly basis. Hopefully, Murphy accomplishments will one day rightfully land him in Cooperstown.
The Braves experienced their worst season in Atlanta in 1988. The Braves finished 54-106, as the late 80’s were not exactly one of the best stretches in the history of the Braves. However, though they would lost the game in 13 innings, the Braves did hit four home runs against the Chicago Cubs. The significance of this number is that these four home runs were the first of 96 total home runs the Braves his as a team that season. This the last time the Braves finished a regular season with less than 100 total home runs as a team, as even in 60 games last season, they hit 103 total long balls.
Obviously, the 1995 season will always carry enormous significance in the hearts of Braves fans as it was the first and only time the Braves won a World Series in Atlanta. One of the more fun memories of that season was a great Opening Day victory against the San Francisco Giants, a game in which Fred McGriff connected for two home runs in a 12-5 victory for the Braves.
Though Atlanta’s starters and Chipper Jones likely had more memorable campaigns that season, McGriff hit 27 home runs and finished 20th in the NL MVP voting. Though he had better years before and after 1995, McGriff player a significant role in the Braves championship run.
As they celebrated their World Series victory in 1995, the Braves decided to pick up right where they left off to start the 1996 campaign. In a 10-8 victory over the Giants, the Braves hit five home runs to earn their first win of the season. The first one of the year was delivered by Ryan Klesko in the first inning, who would produce a career best 34 home runs in 1996 for the Braves.
Besides Aaron’s home run in 1974, perhaps the most celebrated opening day home run during the Braves time in Atlanta was a seventh inning blast off the blast of Andres Galarraga to open the 2000 season. The home run was certainly significant, as it produced the deciding run of the game as the Braves beat the Colorado Rockies 2-0.
However, and far more importantly, it was a magnificent moment as Galarraga returned after the missing the 1999 season as he battled cancer. Galarraga defeated the horrible disease, and worked his way back to once again becoming a big part of the Braves offense. It was fitting the Galarraga’s long ball happened against the team that he had meant so much too in the Colorado Rockies in their first years as a franchise. This moment was one of more heartwarming Opening Day moments in all of baseball in recent memory.
The Braves experienced their first season finishing under .500 since 1990 in 2006, and their historic run of division titles and playoff appearances also ended. While the Braves did not start a new postseason streak in 2007, they at did finish above .500, and did so in dramatic fashion on Opening Day. Shortstop Edgar Renteria hit two home runs, including a two-run shot to put the Braves ahead and win the game in the 10th inning. Though Renteria only spent two season with the Braves, he certainly produced quite well during his time in Atlanta.
Though the Opening Day home runs from Aaron and Galarraga certainly have reasons to be more celebrated, it is hard to argue that the Opening Day long ball from Jason Heyward in 2010 may have been the most fun the Braves and their fans have had to open a season in Atlanta. In his first at-bat during a wild first inning between the Braves and the Cubs, Heyward delivered a three-run blast that put the Braves up 6-3. It also produced the best play call from Chip Caray in his career as the Braves lead announcer.
The 2010 season felt like a new beginning for the Braves, as it was the debut of Heyward, perhaps the most celebrated Braves’ rookie since Chipper and Andruw Jones. Heyward would generate a campaign that would make him the Rookie of the Year runner-up in the National League. He also would help the Braves return to the post season for the first time since 2005.
After Chipper Jones retired after the 2012 season, the Braves decided to have one of their more aggressive offseasons since they arrived in Atlanta. The Braves signed Melvin Upton Jr. (known as B.J. at the time) and also traded for his younger brother, Justin Upton, to form one of the best lineups on paper in baseball. The initial results were certainly positive, as Justin Upton delivered an opening day home run in a 7-4 victory over the Phillies.
Obviously, in time, neither Upton brother, and this version of the Braves in general, lived up to expectations. However, at the time, there was plenty of excitement, as the 2013 team did finish with 96 victories. Though they did lose in the NLCS, for at least one year, the Braves strategy did work to form one of the best teams in baseball that year.
I remember this game vividly. The Braves were having no luck against Aaron Nola, and the Phillies extended their lead to 5-0 in the top of the sixth inning. At that moment, I thought the game was likely over, so my wife and I left out home to go eat at her grandmother’s house. However, at the same time, the inexplicable happened: Gabe Kapler, for some unknown reason, removed Nola after only 68 pitches, and the Braves comeback began.
As we were finishing up dinner, I checked my phone to see if the Braves had made it back, and saw that the score was 5-5. It was then that I told my wife, who fortunately has always been understanding and supportive of my Braves fandom, that I had to step away. I went in the living room, turned on the TV, and literally seconds later, Markakis launched the game-winner to win the game. That is one of the more memorable moments I have as Braves fan.
Of course, this moment also was a great catalyst to unexpected start to a new era of Braves success. Markakis would become a critical component of the Braves surprising the baseball world as they claimed the NL East championship. The 2018 season would serve as the start of this current version of the Braves, one that could achieve unprecedented success in the near future for both the franchise and the city of Atlanta.
As can be seen, there have been quite a few fun moments on Opening Day for the Braves during their time in Atlanta thanks to the home run. Though some moments may be more memorable than others, they all certainly were fun ways to start the season. Hopefully, just like in 2007 and 2018, the Braves will use the long ball once again to create a great opening day memory against the Phillies in what will hopefully be a very special 2021 season.